Anyone with nyctophobia (otherwise known as a fear of the dark) would not fare well in Brighton Festival’s Ring.
Set in Brighton’s The Basement, with its strange warehouse-esque atmosphere and abundant exposed brickwork, even stranger things were at play once the audience were summoned into the performance room.
As the lights descended initially, despite never having been afraid of the dark, the initial strains of anxiety crept into my chest. Despite the fact I could see nothing, the visual white noise made me convince myself there were people moving everywhere. Whether my eyes were open or shut, it was all the same. ‘Michael’ (‘Though’, as he said, ‘that’s not my real name, of course’), who led the session, said that for some of us, the darkness would seem ‘tangible, like a thick blanket’. It was somehow easier to imagine it this way, rather than the absence it represented.
The concept was brilliant. Each audience member is given a set of headphones which are worn throughout the performance. The lights are dimmed, and voices and ambient noises ripple around the room. ‘Michael’ invited us, via our headphones, to imagine a series of images. We were constantly reminded that anything can happen in the dark. Voices addressed the room and each individual, and it soon became apparent that each of us, as ‘Francis’, was the focus of this show.
Voices told me that I, Francis, was the one that everyone wanted to know, and everyone loved me. I was the reason everyone came tonight, and wasn’t it exciting that everyone wanted to be my friend? The entire show seemed to be centred around the notion of mental disorders. This was narcissistic personality disorder. When the voices started, right at the start of the show, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. My initial thought was that there were actors roaming around whispering into the ears of selected audience members. I was the chosen ‘Francis’ and I was the important one. Of course, this wasn’t true, but there was something very resonant about being told you were the special one everyone loved. When I clocked onto the fact that we were all hearing the same thing, it was almost disappointing.
Another more obvious way to look at Ring would be to say that it represented some form of schizophrenia. There were multiple voices in our heads. We knew these people didn’t exist in this space, but every time a new voice piped up, I kept catching myself looking round to see if I could locate its source. This is a testament to the fantastic technology involved. This was surround sound at its finest. Truly believable and at times, terrifying. Everything seems threatening in the dark. The heavy breathing, the coughs, the sound of some audience member allegedly eating crisps. All of these things made it frighteningly real, despite the constant attempts to rationalise the situation to myself.
Sensory deprivation does strange things to your mind. It is easy to see why people are afraid of the dark. I felt anxious through half of the performance and strangely compliant through the rest. Anxious, because the sounds through the headphones imply that there are people approaching and speaking directly to you. Compliant, because you’re constantly being told that you’re the special one, and I caught myself smiling a couple of times when the voices were telling me they loved me. Of course, they said the same to everyone else, but presumably we were all feeling exactly the same.
Ring was a truly fascinating show. Even more than the voice acting, it’s the sensation of having to trust everyone around you completely. I felt very vulnerable, but I think that’s why it worked so well. Despite the whirring threat of the darkness, it was strangely comforting. This blend of sinister and reassuring is bizarrely addictive. Nothing can happen to you, Francis, because you’re the special one, and everyone else in the room knows it.
For more on Ring Brighton Festival click here
words Kayleigh Tanner